Finish Lines: Matt Smith

Matt Smith, pictured at Point State Park, represented Mt. Lebanon in the 42nd district of the Pa. House and the 37th district of the Pa. Senate until resigning in June 2015 to become executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, which represents the 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Was leaving elected office HARD? How did the legislature prepare you for the Chamber job? Leaving elected office was not an easy decision, but the transition to my role as president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce was seamless because, in many ways, it is a continuation of my work in the state house and senate on behalf of the region. In my current position, I advocate at the local, state and federal levels of government for priorities that improve the economy and quality of life in the 10-county region. My years in the legislature taught me the value of working in a bipartisan manner and across the political spectrum. That was my hallmark, and one that I was proud of. It serves me well today where success is tied to bringing private and public sectors leaders together around common goals to propel our region forward.

IS IT TRUE THAT in 10 years Pittsburgh might not have enough workers TO FILL JOBS? how CAN THE CHAMBER address THIS? The Allegheny Conference on Community Development, of which the Chamber is an affiliate, recently released a study called Inflection Point: Supply Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region. The report identified that the region is facing a shortage of approximately 80,000 workers over the next ten years. The reasons are complex, but essentially we know that job growth and retirements of baby boomers in the next ten years will cause this shortage. To address the challenge, we must act collectively and soon. To this end we are focused on three things, which we are referring to as “ERA.” We need to Elevate our existing workforce; Retain as many of our college graduates as possible; and Attract new people to the greater Pittsburgh region.

HOW DO partnerships HELP THE LOCAL economy?  Partnerships and collaboration are more important than ever. Public and private sector partnerships in particular are necessary to advance large policy issues. In fact, the Allegheny Conference was created in the 1940s as a partnership between the public sector as represented by Mayor David Lawrence and the private sector as represented by Richard King Mellon to clean our air and water. I am proud to build upon this legacy of leadership through partnership which has yielded results for our region such as increased federal transportation funding and elimination of the state capital stock and franchise tax, to name a few.

Crucial to achieving these results are our strategic coalitions that advocate for policy improvements at the local, state and federal levels of government. These include CompetePA, a 130-plus member state-wide coalition, established by the Chamber in 2005, that works to create a more competitive business tax climate in Pennsylvania. At the federal level, we help to lead and drive forward the agenda of the multi-state Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition – a coalition of 36 chambers of commerce across 12 states and two Canadian provinces. The Chamber also helps to lead the Regional Advocacy Coalition of Chambers – 24 regional chambers of commerce working to educate and influence legislators at all levels of government on the common interests of the 10-county region’s business community.

What are some positive and negatives about the region that you hear from Chamber members?  Pittsburghers are proud of our region’s transformation and excited to be part of a region that is brimming with opportunity and leading the way in industries like robotics, energy, cyber security and additive manufacturing.  And we have an unparalleled quality of life here: world-class performing arts, some of the country’s best heath care, globally renowned educational institutions, three major league sports teams, and year-round recreation amid three rivers, mountains and rolling highlands.

Rather than look at issues as negatives, I prefer to look at them as opportunities. For example, take the previously mentioned workforce shortage we are facing.  Due to our demographics, we are on the leading edge of the problem, but we are also on the leading edge of tackling it.  Inflection Point provides a roadmap for success in terms of preparing our workforce.  And while filling these jobs is a big challenge for our region’s employers, it’s also an enormous opportunity for young people and anyone who has or can get the skills to do the work.

We also need to ensure continued investment in the transportation network, to work to improve the business tax structure in Pennsylvania so we can enhance our competiveness, and finally addressing our state and municipal pension structure is necessary to support continued economic improvement.

Like any region, we have challenges.  What makes us unique, I think, is our track record of successfully tackling these sorts of challenges – after all, we transformed our environment and our economy. We have the right assets to meet these challenges – a diverse and balanced economy, a culture of collaboration, world-class higher education institutions and a highly engaged CEO network.

As the Chamber’s leader, what is your most important priority for the next year or so? We have several policy priorities on our agenda. At the state level, we will continue to work toward state and municipal pension reform; reduction in the state’s corporate net income tax and elimination of the ‘cap’ on the carryover of net operating losses. At the federal level, we are focused on critical regional infrastructure investment in our local locks and dams, updates to our nation’s energy policy to ensure grid reliability and use of our abundant natural energy resources; and immigration reform – particularly high skilled immigrant reform that our region is uniquely positioned to take advantage of.

What is the most fun part of your job? I really enjoy talking about the wonderful things happening in our community and taking on the challenges to make our region even better in the future.

Photo by Martha Rial